Bryan Cranston as Walter White (Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC)
The dynamics of the main story-arc of "Babylon 5" is centered around the conflict between two ancient, alien races that are battling to manipulate the galaxy towards their own philosophies. Both of those races present the characters of the show with two fundamental questions, and the responses to those questions have far reaching implications. The Vorlons represent order and obedience, and ask "Who Are You?" to force contemplation of identity. The Shadows (a reference to the darker aspects of human nature in Jungian psychology) represent chaos and believe in societal development and growth through conflict. They push the characters towards answering "What Do You Want?" to reveal desire. Who we are as persons is more than just our name. Identity is more than either answering to Walter White or Heisenberg. It's more than the title or position of wife, brother-in-law, or DEA agent. The answer to the question of "who are you?" can only be stated in a meaningful way if you are sure of your purpose in this existence. And how we go about achieving what we want says a lot about who we are. If your life revolves around "what do you want?" it places desire above introspection. But a lot of times our desires are based around dissatisfaction, unfulfilled dreams and envy. And since one's raw desires are often contradictory with those of another's, the result is conflict and suffering if pursued to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.
This episode feeds into these themes with characters having to deal with questions of identity and the consequences of getting what they want.
The episode title of "To'hajiilee" translates as "Bringing Up Water From a Natural Well," and is a reference to an area of the very real Navajo reservation 32 miles west of Albuquerque where scenes from this and other episodes were shot. And Jesse (Aaron Paul) was right when he mentioned it being the original spot where he and Walter cooked for the first time in the RV.
Serialized television makes us viewers into the embodiments of tragic desire ... and Vince Gilligan seems determined to impress upon us the same lesson Walt is learning. Every week we question what we want to have happen, what will satisfy us. We stake our identities on some outcome that will represent victory for our values (or, more likely, our appetites), and pre-emptively declare some other possible outcome as betrayal. Have we learned nothing? Be careful what you wish for, fans. You might get it.
Did you want Walt in handcuffs, the bullshit fountain finally run dry? I know I have, at various times, wanted this. Well, here it is, in one of the series’ very few true cliffhanger endings, the kind where, when we come back next week, we’re likely to pick up the story at the same moment it cut to black on us this week. Did you want Hank vindicated? Here he is, triumphant, accepting congratulations from his partner, calling Marie to exchange tearful, relieved expressions of love. Did you want Jesse to gain the upper hand, for once to be the man with the foolproof plan? Here he is snarling on the phone, goading Walt into the kind of recklessness that goes before big mistakes, spitting on his former mentor. Is that what we wanted? We may have thought so. But now, as it’s happening and Walt sits defeated and Jesse looks frightened, we have to question ourselves.
- Meth Damon Discovers Love: Todd (Jesse Plemons) might be one of the creepiest characters to ever be in a television series. What's interesting about Todd is that he's a child killer, but his creepiness really stands out when he tries to do normal things. The moment where he covets the lipstick on Lydia's cup is downright disturbing. And before that, when he comes on to Lydia (Laura Fraser), it's almost like a robot trying to express desire, but doing it in the most awkward way possible. I've mentioned previously how the Lydia-Todd relationship is kind of a bizarro version of Walt and Jesse's partnership. In that respect, I thought it was significant that Lydia doesn't recoil or act creeped out when Todd comes on to her. Her actions and responses in the scene seem to be those of someone who's trying to manipulate Todd into her trust. When Todd calls Lydia "Ms. Quayle" (similar to how Jesse always calls Walt "Mr. White"), she tells Todd to call her "Lydia" and reassures him.
I've put a lot of faith in your abilities, Todd. I believe in you. Please do make the cook better. It's very important to me. -Lydia
- 76% Purity: Todd is better at cooking meth than "the dude that looked like Wolverine" the Arizona crew had, but not by much. Lydia needs the purity as high as she can get in order to sell the meth in Eastern Europe. She also needs it to be blue to it fit the Heisenberg "branding." The idea of Walt's meth being able to dominate the market because of purity has always been a bit of a stretch in some ways. While there are people that will pay to have the best product available, I'm not sure if meth addicts are that discerning of a customer base. Where the purity would make a difference is to the dealers, since they're going to "cut" their product in order to stretch it into as much as they can sell. If you have a 90 percent pure product, it can be cut more ways to make more money than a 60 percent pure product. Also the blue color of the meth doesn't make a lot of sense for 98 percent pure meth. Walt's meth is created through reductive amination of phenylacetone with methylamine (aka p2p). A pure meth product should be as clear as crystal. So whatever it is that turns the meth blue is either in the 2 percent impurity or something special that Walt added as his own personal touch. Here in the real world, some meth dealers have started using food coloring in order to give their meth the appearance of looking like the meth from "Breaking Bad."
Dean Norris as Hank Schrader (Credit: AMC)
- Huell and The Money: Jesse correctly deduces that the only thing tying Walt to his criminal life is his money. Find the money, and it will smoke Walt out. Hank and Gomez go about this by finding and manipulating Huell (Lavell Crawford). It's amazing that such a minor character has become one of the most important cogs in this final run. Huell steals the ricin to set up the circumstances of Gus' fall, his theft of Jesse's pot leads to Jesse turning on Walt and the Hank-Jesse partnership, and his reveal of what Walt did with his money to Hank and Gomez sets up the climax of this episode. Huell "ratting" on Walt also plays into the idea that everyone buys into Walt being Heisenberg now, instead of seeing him as a chemistry teacher playing drug lord. Huell instantly believes the photo of Jesse's corpse as being something that Walt is capable of doing, to the point that he doesn't trust Saul enough anymore to contact him.
- The Price For Jesse: Walt goes to see Todd's Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and the White Power crew in order to deal with Jesse. His demeanor during the meeting is reluctance. Walt becomes visibly agitated when Uncle Jack implies that Jesse is a rat, with Walt defending Jesse and calling him a "family" member that won't listen to reason. But Uncle Jack doesn't want money to kill Jesse, he wants Walt to cook for them. Jack claims it will only be for a limited time so Todd can learn to cook meth the right way. Walt will only agree to do one cook. However, the scene felt like it was signaling a shift in power. Jack's mocking tone while discussing the hit on Jesse seemed to indicate that, no matter what happened, the Aryans were not going to be satisfied with a short-term relationship and no way in hell was it going to be just one cook.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Emily Rios as Andrea Cantillo (Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC)
Jesse. It's Andrea. Your friend Walter just dropped by. He's here at the house with me & Brock right now. We um ... We're thinking of you. Call me back as soon as you get this message, okay. I really need to hear from you. It's important. -Andrea
- Nice Try Asshole: While Jesse and Hank are trying to flush Walt out, Walt attempts to flush Jesse out by going by Andrea and Brock's home. Walt gets Andrea to phone Jesse to let her know that he had been by, in the hope that he'll rush over and Uncle Jack's crew will get him. But the phone call is intercepted by Hank. One interesting thing to ponder about the scene is Brock. Whether Brock remembers (or is even supposed to remember Walt from the poisoning) has never been expanded on, but Brock reacts coldly to Walt like he knows that something is not right about the situation.
- Have An A1 Day!: The scene at the car wash is all about how everything is crumbling for Walt, Skyler and Saul to the point they are all miserable, waiting for the sky to fall on top of them. Skyler is at the car wash going through routine, but she no longer feels safe in her own home and won't let Jr. go there since there was a guy that recently tried to torch the place. Saul can't find Huell and is walking around in a bulletproof vest. And Walt is wearing the conflicted emotions of the situation. One little side note: When Skyler tells Walt Jr. to say "Have an A1 day!" to the customers in order to reinforce the brand, I thought it was a nice way to connect to Lydia's concern over the blue color of the meth in order to keep the product identified with the brand of Heisenberg. Also, Walt Jr.'s glee at meeting Saul is great.
Yes, I am sorry about Brock! But he's alive isn't he?!? He's fine, just as I planned it! Don't you think I knew exactly how much to give him?!? That I had it all measured out? Come on! Don't you know me by now? -Walt
I know you're a lying, evil scumbag. That's what I know. Manipulating people, messing with their heads. -Jesse
Open your eyes! Can't you see that I needed you on my side to kill Gus? I ran over those gang-bangers!!! I killed Emilio and Crazy-8!!! Why?!? I did all of those things to try to save your life, as much as mine! Except you're too stupid to know it! -Walt
- Feds Watching: Hank, Jesse and Gomez ultimately decide to lure Walt to his drug money by bluffing him. Jesse sends Walt a picture of a barrel filled with money, and claims to have found Walt's stash. Walt rushes to To'Hajiilee in a panic. All along the way, Jesse taunts Walt with the destruction of his money, as Walt tries to explain himself. He's also unwittingly incriminating himself and leads Hank and Jesse to the buried money. Like so many things in the show, whether or not you buy Walt's reasoning for poisoning Brock and arguments of doing things for Jesse's best interest is up to interpretation. Although, it is interesting to point out that, if Walt hadn't poisoned Brock, Gus likely would not have been killed. Since Gus was planning to kill Hank and threatened to murder Walter's infant daughter if he interfered, Hank wouldn't be around to team up with Jesse and take Walt down. So while the poisoning of Brock is one of the more despicable things Walt has done, there are ways it can be rationalized (i.e. Walt saved Hank's life and removed the threat of Gus from his family).
- Coward: Until the moment Hank and Gomez get out of the truck with Jesse, the thought that Jesse would betray him to the cops never crosses Walt's mind. And there is a look of utter shock and hurt when he realizes Jesse is working with Hank. While being handcuffed and arrested, Walt says only one word; barking "coward" at Jesse. Is it because he truly believed Jesse was "family," and somehow he thought it beyond impossible for Jesse to betray him to Hank? Is it because he realizes how horribly he's misjudged the situation and the idea of Jesse becoming a rat? Jesse's response to being called a coward is to spit in Walt's face, and the look on his face as the cuffs go on Walt seems to be a myriad of emotions. Aaron Paul describes the moment for Jesse as being a mix of pride, sadness and anger. Also, I've been waiting to see how Walt would react to being arrested. Would he freak out and start frantically trying to talk his way out of it? Would he break down and cry? Would he resist to the very end? Since this episode in a way brings everything full-circle by putting Walt and Jesse back at the location of their first cook, it's fascinating to contrast Walt's reaction here with how he reacts to the idea of arrest in the pilot. There Walt is ready to go out guns blazing by standing in the middle of the highway, gun drawn, awaiting the oncoming sirens. Here he throws the gun away and seems ready to go down quietly. In fact, Walt raises his arms in almost the same manner that Gus did, when Gus dared the Mexican Cartel assassin to shoot him back in season 4. Also, as much as Walt has become Heisenberg, he is still unwilling to perform violence against Hank, which makes what happens next so tragic.
Michael Bowen as Jack and Kevin Rankin as Kenny, as well as the assorted crew of White Power assholes (Credit: AMC)
I got to go. It may be a while before I get home. I love you. -Hank
I love you too. -Marie
- Don't Come: One thing I love about this episode is that you can see the ending coming, and yet it still pulls it off in a satisfying way. In the back of your head, even when the cuffs come out and Walt is being read his rights, you know through the flash forwards (and the fact there are three episodes left) that it will not end this way. Hell, from the moment Walt calls Jack, the ending of this episode almost becomes an inevitability. And yet it is still damn effective and filled with tension through the entire thing. The fact that Walt is left screaming, begging, and pleading, trying to avert what ultimately happens, is horrifying. He sets in motion a series of events that he loses complete control over, and two people he considers family are looking down the gun barrels of Uncle Jack's gang as he's powerless to stop it.
- Mendoza!!!: Will Hank, Gomez and/or Jesse survive Uncle Jack and his White Power assholes? The entire conversation between Hank and Marie seemed to be made of every trope that a doomed character does right before being killed. As soon as Hank made the phone call to Marie and said "I love you," I knew he probably wasn't going to live much longer. Add to it that Hank just achieved the goal that he's been working towards most of the series. However, just to subvert expectations, it's possible Vince Gilligan and the writers may find a way for Hank to survive. With Jesse, just before the shooting starts, he starts reaching for the car door handle to try to get as far away as possible. Although, even if he got away, where is he going to go in the middle of the desert?
The loathsome nature of Uncle Jack and company seems an appropriate place for the story to turn in the closing hours. (I am more convinced than ever that Jim Beaver's machine gun is meant for them, though given my belief in the unpredictability of the series, that probably means Walt intends to use it on Huell and Kuby for the sin of molesting his cash.) I've seen it suggested that they're intended as a corrective to the adoration that white male anti-hero Walt has gotten for his various badass deeds over the years. And maybe Gilligan and company intend them as that. But they feel more like a repudiation of Walt's own belief in how a life of crime can and should work. Walt has always fancied himself above the likes of Krazy-8 and Tuco, has imagined himself a mogul like Gus: someone who will use his mind and his nerve to build a fortune without having to lower himself into the muck that consumes everyone else in the drug trade. Time and again, events have proven him incorrect on this, as he's had to do and say things that the pre-cancer Walter White wouldn't have been able to fathom. That these guys are the last foes he has to conquer— and not Gus, nor Mike, nor anyone else Walt wouldn't feel disgusted to share a room with under less urgent circumstances — feels like the final indignity, and the final reminder to Walt of what a life of crime is actually meant to look like.